March 5th, 2008

This is my first official documented disaster. Well, disaster is a strong word, let’s use mishap, shall we? In celebration of International Women’s Day on Saturday, Zorra and Fiordisale organized an event where one must make a dish with yellow. I immediately thought of saffron.

Saffron is a spice used to flavor and color food with a golden-yellow shade. Also, saffron to me has always had a strong link to women. I remember in my old Latin class writing a paper about Roman weddings where the woman would wear saffron colored clothing. The first time I ate a dish with saffron, I met an interesting Iranian woman, whose experiences give reason for International Women’s Day. Saffron even comes from the female part of a certain crocuses plant, the stigmas. Somehow saffron always has an association with women and so seemed like an appropriate spice to use for this event.

After deciding upon saffron as my main spice, I looked for a recipe that I could make from the ingredients in my pantry, ever the thrifty cook. I only have some saffron because my mother gave me a little of hers. Anyway, I stumbled across Saffron Buns at Muffin Top and those seemed like they would work. I mixed and kneaded, watching the saffron bleed into the dough going from red to golden yellow. It was beautiful. Then I waited and waited and waited and waited. The dough would not rise enough! Finally, frustrated, I formed the dough into small buns and set them aside for the second rising. Again, I waited and waited and waited and waited. But, they would not rise enough! I ended up baking them and they turned out fairly well, a little dense. Also, they are not a true yellow- I think I was too stingy with my saffron. Given these mishaps, I decided not to enter these into the International Women’s Day event, but stay tuned…on Saturday, I do have something tasty!

Saffron Buns
(From the King Arthur Four Website through the Muffin Top)

1/4 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons instant yeast
3 to 3 1/4 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 egg white beaten lightly with a teaspoon of water

1. Combine the hot water and saffron, and let sit for 10 minutes to soften the saffron.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the saffron water, milk, sugar, butter, salt, egg, yeast, and 2 cups of the flour.
3. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough.
4. Knead the dough (for about 15 minutes by hand, 12 minutes in an electric mixer, 90 seconds in a food processor, or in your bread machine using the dough cycle), then set it aside to rise till puffy (but not necessarily doubled in bulk), about 2 hours (Mine took about 3 hours- see P.S.)
5. Punch the dough down, and let it rest, covered, for 10 minutes.
6. Divide the dough into 16 pieces, and shape each piece into a ball. Place the balls fairly close together (but not touching) in a greased 9 x 13-inch pan, cover them, and let them rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until they’re puffy (again, it took about 2 ½ hours).
7. Glaze the buns with the beaten egg white, and sprinkle them heavily with sugar (recipe calls for pearl sugar but normal superfine worked well).
8. Bake them in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 minutes, or until they’re golden brown. (Watch them closely at the end; because of their high sugar content, they tend to brown quickly.)

P.S. Why did it take so long to rise? I misread the recipe and used Active Yeast instead of instant yeast. Instant yeast does not need to be proofed and still rises well. Recently, Allen of Cooking Out Loud explored how one could make the substitution but just increasing the temperature of the liquids. Next time I would either dissolve the saffron in 1/8 cup of hot water and the yeast in 1/8 cup warm water or warm the milk slightly before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. I would probably stick to the first method because by proofing, I would make sure I did not kill the yeast (my greatest fear!). I believe that it will not change the outcome significantly but I have not had a chance to test it yet. Regardless, if you are patient or use the correct kind of yeast, the recipe makes some delicious sweet buns.

International Women's Day

I think I’ve gone Bananas…for Bloggin’

February 20th, 2008

Tomorrow, my blog will turn one month (and my grandfather 80…Happy Birthday Nonno!). How crazy is that? I must admit…I am hooked. It challenges me to be creative, learn new skills (such as html code), and try new recipes plus I love the community of the foodie blog world that I have joined. My friends and family have been very supportive by listening to me blab on and on about what I am learning, patiently refraining from eating my models while I take pictures and emailing me constructive comments. Thank you all.

I do not want to lose sight of my purpose to impart some easy recipes and tips for the 20-somethings who just want to make some good food. I grew up making this banana bread recipe. It is very easy and it is a huge hit. I have friends from college who still ask for my banana bread. It is the best way to use up over ripe bananas, because who really can eat all those bananas before they go bad? Not this single woman. I like to wait until they have turned black but before they go bad (a.k.a. moldy). We tend to freeze the bananas, as they become too ripe, so that I can use them when that craving for banana bread hits. Unfortunately, there is only one decent photo, because, as Peabody warned, beige food does not photograph well. But it tastes better than my picture looks and is really easy to make…

Banana Bread
(adapted from Betty Crocker recipe for Nut Bread)

1 cup mashed bananas (2-3 super ripe bananas)
2 ½ cup all-purpose four
1 cup sugar
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Heat oven to 350°F.
2. Grease and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan.
3. Mash up the bananas using a potato masher or fork.
4. Mix in the remaining ingredients, until everything has been incorporated.
5. Pour into pans and bake for 65 to 75 minutes or until a knife/ tooth pick inserted into the center comes out clean. To prevent it from burning, towards the end of the baking time, place a piece of aluminum foil loosely over the bread.
6. Remove from pan; cool thoroughly before slicing.

P.S. Do you like chocolate or nuts in your banana bread? Mix 1/2 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 1/2 cup of chopped pecans/walnuts or both with the other ingredients before pouring it in the pan.

In lieu of flowers…I’ll take flour

February 16th, 2008

In the wake of Valentine’s Day, after I gorged myself on way too much chocolate and enjoyed my co-workers beautiful flowers, I got to thinking about how romantic practical gifts can be. So many of the standard Valentine’s Day gifts are cute and romantic but not very lasting or useful. Flowers die, chocolate consumed, teddy bears neglected. My roommate, for instance, bought her boyfriend things he needed for his car. Not the standard “romantic” present but it was by the sheer fact that it was thoughtful and useful…so maybe the thought does count. Thinking back, I’ve been given practical gifts that have been very meaningful and memorable to me. I’ve had a pack of cards for about six years from an ex that I still breakout and has somehow survived all my moves. One guy I was dating brought over 25lbs of bread flour (although, now that I think about it, we weren’t dating yet…but…it did not take long). Given my bread obsession, I’ll happily take flour over flowers. Although, I would never turn down flowers!

I love bread! I love making bread! I love the smell! I love the taste! I love everything about bread! If I have a rough day at work, I break out the flour and yeast and get rid of my aggression by kneading the dough. A productive way to destress. In keeping with one of my blog goals, to teach people how to cook, I decided that I really need to learn how to make No-Knead Bread. I was never too interested because the kneading is my favorite part but…when I saw LyB’s of And then I do the dishes beautiful post, I thought I should give it another chance. No-Knead is easy to make for anyone who is intimidated by the bread making process. The important part is that it needs to be cooked in a pot in order to create the really good crust and maintain a nice shape. Previously, I had tried it without a pot because I do not have one big enough but it did not turn out well. I have two pyrex bowls, 1 quart and 2 quart, so I adapted the recipe to make two smaller loaves. Start this the day before you want to make it because it will need to rise at least a total of 14 hours. My little loaves turned out quite well. A nice crunchy crust and an airy moist inside, absolutely delicious.

No Knead Bread
(Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery, as found in the NY Times)

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
1 5/8 cups water

Cornmeal, flour or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I left mine for about 15 hours.)

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Split the dough into two equal portions. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape each portion of dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a two 1- to 2-quart Pyrex bowls pot in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 25 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 10 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

P.S. If you want to make one large loaf check out LyB’s recipe. In fact, check out her blog anyway. Her pictures are beautiful and she has a lot of ideas for variations.